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Church defends Defra over 'stepping back' claims

Defra’s senior waste official has defended the department’s lighter touch policy and asserted the determination “to go beyond the minimum” if necessary for economic and environmental reasons.

Colin Church (left) addressed a plastics recycling event in Westminster last week even though he was constrained by ‘purdah’, the requirement on civil servants not to comment on public policy in the run-up to elections.

Colin Church

His audience was members of Plastics 2020, a group that comprises the Packaging and Films Association, the British Plastics Federation and PlasticsEurope, but Church addressed general concerns in the resource management sector that Defra has stepped back from a more interventionist role.

“We need to work together in industry and government. It’s our view that the role of government is two-fold. The first is to set out the basic legislative framework. Secondly it is to help industry through WRAP and others in complying with that and helping us to go further if that is the right thing to do.

“Our close working relationship remains strong and productive, although not consensual. We do have differences of opinion but that is right and proper in a healthy relationship and that should continue with that creative tension to make sure we find ways of doing what we need to deliver.”

He added that Government wanted a more resource efficient economy and circular economy.

“If the economic and environmental benefits justify it, we will go beyond the minimum, where that is the right thing to do.”

Church referred to a letter written by resource minister Dan Rogerson when he took office last October that his department was “stepping back” from certain activities.

He listed initiatives driven by Defra that were continuing:

  • research on packaging put on the market;
  • Environment Agency’s plans to “level the playing field” between PRNs and PERNs;
  • MRF regulations;
  • £5m to help fund EA work against illegal activity including exports;
  • supporting voluntary initiatives across the sectors;
  • the waste prevention programme;
  • producer responsibility.

“Government clearly has a pivotal role in setting the direction and the mechanisms but it is not one we could or should do alone.  Business has to lead the way in much of this.”

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